KUWAIT CITY (AP) – A U.S. soldier most likely acted out of resentment yesterday when he threw grenades into tents at a 101st Airborne Division command center, killing a fellow serviceman, an Army spokesman said.
Fifteen other soldiers, including the division commander, were wounded – at least three of them seriously – in an early attack yesterday at Camp Pennsylvania, the rear base for the 101st near the Iraqi border. The 101st is based at Fort Campbell, Ky.
The dead soldier was identified yesterday as Army Capt. Christopher Scott Seifert, 27. No hometown was immediately available for Seifert, who was sleeping in his tent when the grenade attack occurred, the Defense Department said.
The soldier in custody was identified yesterday as Sgt. Asan Akbar of the 326th Engineer Battalion. Fort Campbell spokesman George Heath said Akbar had not been charged with any crime. Heath did not release Akbar’s hometown or say how long he had served in the military.
But Heath did say Akbar had been “having what some might call an attitude problem.” As a sergeant, Akbar commanded four to seven soldiers, Heath said.
Another Army spokesman, Max Blumenfeld, said the motive in the attack “most likely was resentment.” No further details were available.
The attack happened in the command center of the division’s 1st Brigade at Camp Pennsylvania at 1:30 a.m. (5:30 p.m. EST Saturday).
Initially, the military suspected the attack was the work of terrorists using two grenades and small-arms fire, Heath said. Two Middle Eastern men hired as contractors were detained and released.
An Interior Ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity said yesterday that Americans still were investigating all locally contracted workers in the camp, such as cleaners, drivers and volunteer translators. Two Kuwaiti translators also were questioned and released.
“When this all happened we tried to get accountability for everybody,” Col. Frederick Hodges, commander of the division’s 1st Brigade, told Britain’s Sky News television. “We noticed four hand grenades were missing and that this sergeant was unaccounted for.”
Akbar was found hiding in a bunker, said Hodges, who was slightly injured in the attack.
“I immediately smelled smoke,” the commander told Sky News. “I heard a couple of explosions and then a popping sound which I think was probably a rifle being fired. It looks like some assailant threw a grenade into each of these three tents here.”
One grenade went off in the command tent, Blumenfeld said. The tent, the tactical operations center, runs 24 hours a day and would always be staffed by officers and senior enlisted personnel.
A picture on the front page of The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, Tenn., showed Hodges with blood on his uniform and his right arm in a sling.
“He’s an intense person and he’ll recover,” Heath said of Hodges.
Ten of the injured had superficial wounds, including punctures to their arms and legs from grenade fragments, Heath said.
The Army did not release any more details about the wounded.
Heath said Akbar would be brought back to Fort Campbell “for judicial punishment” if he is found guilty.
Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid said at a briefing in Qatar that the grenade attack was “very tragic and very unfortunate,” and “I don’t think it’s indicative of the morale of our forces.”
The 101st Airborne is a rapid deployment group trained to go anywhere in the world within 36 hours.
The roughly 22,000 members of the 101st were deployed Feb. 6. The last time the entire division was deployed was during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, which began after Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait.
Most recently, the 101st hunted suspected Taliban and al-Qaida fighters in the mountains of Afghanistan. Its exploits are followed in Kentucky with much pride.
Kuwait is the main launching point for the tens of thousands of ground forces – including parts of the 101st – who have entered Iraq.
News of the attack at the camp compounded the anxiety of relatives of the division’s soldiers.
“I get a little worried but when I think I should be crying, I’m not,” said Chelsey Payne of Clarksville, Tenn., whose husband, Sgt. Robert Payne, is with the division. “I just don’t get scared about my own husband, I just know that he’s a good soldier and he’s coming home. He promised me.”